How to make accessible online forms

In my recent quest to learn as much as I can about accessibility, I stumbled across a webinar by AbilityNet which focused on building accessible online forms. Much to my delight it was an hour well spent – full of really useful and practical tips.

Perhaps my biggest learning point was that the guidance made forms better for everyone. Something I am beginning to realise (and I am sure I read this somewhere) is that good accessibility is good usability. It’s not just about making items work for screen readers. A common misconception.

Here you can find a summary of some of the key points I took away from the webinar. I have also embedded a recording of it which is worth watching if you have some spare time.

Provide clear instructions and set expectations

Have you ever started completing an online form only to find half way through that you need a document or piece of information that is not close by? Oh well. Better go and find it and start again later.

Or have you ever started to complete a form while you have a spare minute only to find that you are still sitting entering data with no end in sight several minutes later?

Frustrating indeed!

To avoid this we should always let the user know the following before they start the form

  • what they will need to complete it
  • how long it is likely to take to complete
  • if they will be able to save and return to it later
  • how mandatory fields can be identified – e.g. “Mandatory fields are indicated with an asterisk (*)

Make data entry easy

When creating a form, think about what method of data entry will be easiest for the user.

Rather than asking the user to enter text, consider options such as

  • dropdown boxes
  • checkboxes
  • radio buttons
  • calendars to select dates from
  • an address finder from entering the postcode

If you do use checkboxes or radio buttons, always place the data to the right.

Be clear about format requirements

If you want data in a specific format, tell the user. For example, if you need the date format to be entered a certain way then have help text that states this.

List errors clearly

If there’s an error, make sure users know what went wrong as well as how they can fix it.

Allow for a review before submitting

Give the user a chance to review and edit the information they have entered before they submit the form.

Find out more

There is further guidance available on the W3C site that goes into more detail about the points covered above.

Recording of webinar

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